The residents of Perth’s southern suburbs are fighting to stop construction of the Perth Freight Link (PFL), a $1.6 billion segment of the federal government’s national infrastructure program.
The fight is as significant as Sydney’s struggle to stop WestConnex and Melbourne’s struggle against the East West Link.
Like the East West Link, the PFL featured in the February 2012 Leighton Holding position paper, entitled Australia’s Top 12 Infrastructure Priorities. The paper is a wish list of giant construction projects that would benefit Liberal Party-linked civil engineering firms. It was quickly adopted as Liberal policy.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott pledged that the PFL would link logistical facilities at Perth Airport to Fremantle Port via a six-lane, traffic-light-free freeway engineered for maximum speed limits. This will be Western Australia’s first tollway. The toll will initially be for trucks only, but is widely expected to later include cars.
Main Roads WA has published photos of the trucks it intends to run along the route. They include triple-trailer road trains.
“There are so many arguments against the Freight Link that it’s almost impossible to know where to begin,” Fremantle City councillor and Socialist Alliance member Sam Wainwright said. “For a start there is already a freight rail line connecting the two points.”
The Fremantle Road to Rail campaign, which Wainwright supports, has initiated a community-wide coalition of groups opposed to the plan.
“There have been groups organised for years to defend the Beeliar Wetlands and to stop the old plan to build the Eastern Bypass but new groups are springing up almost daily.
“Everyone in the southern suburbs has a stake in opposing this plan,” Wainwright said. “Cockburn Council has voted $25,000 to fight the PFL and Fremantle Council will vote on a motion opposing the PFL at its June 24 meeting.
“Road to Rail says there is no sectional solution to this problem. Even if a group saves their own backyard from the bulldozers, the diesel particulate pollution generated by these trucks will blanket the whole area.”
The Road to Rail campaign says that there are easy solutions to the overload of trucks going to Fremantle Port. About 30% of all trucks are ferrying empty containers to and from the port’s container park.
Simply moving the container park to Kewdale and increasing the number of containers on the rail line would eliminate half the trucks.
In its May budget, the WA government announced its intention to sell off Fremantle Port Authority.
“The sale of the port explains the government’s haste in pushing this project,” says Wainwright. “They are forcing the community to bear the entire social, ecological and health cost of the freight task for Fremantle Port.
“The new port owners will be free of all responsibility for transport. It’s a perfect example of socialising costs while privatising profits.
“Meanwhile, the WA government won’t be spending any of the sale money on helping people, it’s all earmarked for bankers to pay off debt.
“Austerity for the many, profit for the few all tied together with an ecological disaster. It’s a picture of modern Australian capitalism, isn’t it?” he said.
[Barry Healy is a member of Socialist Alliance in Fremantle.]